Hays eyes artificial turf for Bickle-Schmidt ball fields

Margaret Allen
Hays Daily News
Ball play at the Bickle-Schmidt Sports Complex
Ball play at the Bickle-Schmidt Sports Complex
The ball fields at the Bickle-Schmidt Sports Complex

Hays for some time has had artificial turf on its wish list for the eight ball fields at city-owned Bickle-Schmidt Sports Complex. That dream may come true.

City staff have requested proposals for installing artificial turf, an estimated $1.65 million project, says Jeff Boyle, parks department director.

“It is a huge project,” said Boyle on Friday. “Almost every company has a different type of turf. It’ll be a pretty in-depth research and discussion about each variety that’s bid. We want to make sure that we get good turf that’s going to last a minimum of 8 to 10 years, preferably more like 15 years.”

If ultimately approved by the Hays City Commission, construction would start Aug. 1, at the wind down of this year’s ball season. Factoring in snow and rain over the fall and winter, when work could be stalled, installation would wrap up by March 24, 2022, he said.

Bids are due April 13 and will be presented to the Hays City Commission at their regular work session May 6 at City Hall, 1507 Main.

The city recently approved more bleacher shade and new scoreboards for the ball fields.

“Once we get all these. It’ll be fantastic out there,” said Boyle.

“I think we’re gonna see it packed every weekend,” he said. “Most people prefer turf because it’s guaranteed play. …It’s going to draw people in from farther away because they know that they’re going to be able to play ball, instead of the ify-ness of ‘Well, if I drive 250 miles, I might not even be able to play if it rains.’ So a lot of folks will stay home and not even sign up for the tournaments. This way it could literally rain and we can play on it in 10 minutes.”

On par with competitors

The proposed turf would cover 1st, 2nd, 3rd base and home plate. That would replace the red dirt there now, which gets powdery and blows, depending on how much play is going on. 

“There have been days where it’s just unbearable out there, with the dirt blowing,” Boyle said.

If Hays gets infield turf, that puts the 110-acre Bickle-Schmidt fields in the same league with others that it competes with around the state to host local and regional tournaments.

Dodge City has turf, Boyle said, while Pratt, Great Bend and Salina are all putting in turf.

“It’s kind of the new trend,” Boyle said. “What we’re seeing from a lot of Kansas, is the fact that wind blows and the dirt infields are not the most pleasant situation to be sitting in when the wind’s blowing.”

That’s not the only reason though. Rain is a problem too.

“When it rains, and you have a tournament planned, and it rains the night before, that can be a huge problem, because it’s all muddy,” he said. “With artificial turf, that won’t be a problem anymore. So you can pretty much have guaranteed play after a rain event.”

Funding could come from some of the proceeds of a countywide quarter-cent sales tax approved by Ellis County voters in April 2020, he said.

Super drain

Artificial turf has an under-drain system, Boyle explained, that takes the water that lands on the turf and carries it outside the ball field area, beyond the fence.

Manufacturers say turf can handle 40 inches of rain per hour, he said.

“We don’t see 40 inches of rain an entire year here,” said Boyle. “So even when we do have a big rain, it’ll definitely get the water out and allow for play.”

The turf is a sort of plastic, with rubber crumbs that fill in the bottom, and only the top quarter- to half- inch of turf sticking up, he said.

Color varies.

Boyle said he called for brown on the softball fields, and green on the baseball field. But if companies offer other suggestions, he’s allowing that in the bid.

Existing turf grass would remain in the outfield.

“I have never heard anybody complain about artificial turf,” Boyle said. “Most players want to play on artificial turf.”

Besides guaranteed play, it’s smooth and consistent, he said.

“The turf is always just like it’s supposed to be, so the route of travel of the ball and those sort of things, doesn’t change or get altered by the bumps that may exist on dirt,” said Boyle.

What’s next

City staff may drive to various locations to look at how different turfs are holding up.

Managed by the Hays Recreation Commission, the complex off the U.S. Highway 183 bypass, is also home to games for Hays Rec’s outdoor sports leagues.

“We kind of made sure we didn’t overschedule the complex and create a problem with them getting the work done,” he said.

Turf would finish off everything that needs to be done at the ball fields, Boyle said, with the exception of trees.

“Obviously we’ve got a lot more trees that we’d like to plant out there,” he said. “That process will continue for years, until we have a sufficient amount of trees and shade available.”

The city commission on Thursday approved the purchase of eight new scoreboards with larger digital numbers, space for sponsor names, and installment in early June.

The new hard-wired aluminum scoreboards will replace existing 10-year-old scoreboards, which Boyle says are unreliable.

Low bid for the scoreboards was $79,905 from South Dakota-based Daktronics, a company familiar to Hays Rec. The city will pay for the scoreboards with Bickle-Schmidt Sports Complex sales tax reserve, then reimburse the money in 2022 with special park and recreation funding.

The commission March 4 approved spending $450,000 to expand shade over the bleachers at the eight ball fields. That relieves what Boyle has said is the No. 1 complaint about the ballpark.

Adding more shade behind the backstops will more than triple what’s there now, to 2,130 square feet.

Kansas-based Quality Structures Inc. starts work April 1 and will wrap it up the first week of May.

Like proposed for the turf, funding for the shade is from some proceeds of a countywide quarter-cent sales tax approved by voters in April 2020.